26 Feb 2006 Possible Autism Research Advance
A possible forward step in the search for a medical treatment for autism?
Researchers have isolated a protein molecule that may hold the key to learning and memory disorders that have been linked with autism. By isolating this potential drug target, new therapies for diseases in which synapses either fail or proliferate out of control could be produced.The master protein shed more light as to the molecular pathway it guides and additionally could help investigators understand the process of learning and memory. More importantly, a host of effective treatments, which are based on these findings, could be a real possibility
Independent research teams from Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston identified a protein that works in the nucleus of neurons that either pares down or promotes synapses depending on whether or not the neuron is being activated.
The protein, myocyte enhancer factor 2 (MEF2), turns on and off genes that control dendritic remodeling. In addition, one of the teams has identified how MEF2 switches from one program to the other, that is, from dendrite-promoting to dendrite-pruning, and the researchers have identified some of MEF2’s targets.
“Changes in the morphology of synapses could turn out to be very important in a whole host of diseases including neurodegenerative as well as psychiatric disorders,” said Azad Bonni, HMS associate professor of Pathology who, with colleagues, authored one of the papers…
…The identification of these targets, and more generally the opening up of the MEF2 pathway, could lead to new therapies for a host of diseases in which synapses either fail to form or run rampant.
Michael Greenberg, HMS Professor of Neurology at Children’s Hospital Boston, who led the second team, is currently a member of a consortium that is trying to get at the molecular underpinnings of autism. “We think the MEF2 pathway may be central,” he said.
The research appears in two papers in the latest issue of Science (Feb 17).